Every now and then a book comes along that helps you view things in a fresh way.
Such a book is James Bowman’s “Honor, A History.” Jim will be addressing the related subject of chivalry-Is It Dead? Should It Be?-in an event sponsored by the IWF and the Ethics and Public Policy Center on June 7. (We’ll post details on our homepage.)
Meanwhile, Washington writer Marty York penned an interesting review of the book that relates to several other aspects of honor-honor in Islamic cultures and our response to attacks by jihadists on we once would have called our national honor.
“As Americans pore through books on Islam and listen to lectures from Middle East experts searching for religious imperatives or political grievances to find the origins of Sept. 11, Bowman introduces an important and little-discussed piece of the puzzle. Honor, he writes, is the fundamental organizing principle of Arab society. In particular, Bowman argues, it motivates some Arab men to do almost anything rather than lose face.
“In such a world, Bowman writes, Hussein would rather endure an American attack than admit that he was weak; in his view, death was far better than dishonor. To Westerners, Saddam’s refusal to cooperate with United Nations inspections, which might have saved his country from invasion, seemed inexplicable. Driven by the demands of his honor culture to appear strong to his domestic enemies and his allies – themselves products of the same belief system – Saddam resisted to the end. After reading ‘Honor, A History,’ it all makes more sense. …
“Part of the difficulty we have in understanding all this, Bowman argues, is that our own sense of honor has nearly disappeared. The Western media consistently treats the very idea of honor as a discredited holdover from the Victorian era. And in the United States the experience of Vietnam, along with feminism and the growth of the therapeutic culture, so discredited the concept of honor that we lost the ability to understand societies in which it is still a guiding principle.
“These days, the closest we get to talking about honor is when we use words like ‘respect’ and ‘credibility.’ But they are a far cry from honor. So it’s no wonder we have a hard time appreciating the significance of a concept that is so important to our enemies. By reacquainting us with the lost meaning and history of this once-powerful idea, Bowman helps us understand our present situation and gives us a language to reconnect with our own lost sense of honor.”